Z is for Zhang Qian & Zheng He

They were greatest explorers of their era. One intrepid ambassador struck out west, across the Jade Gate, and stayed so long that he was imprisoned and married before coming home. The other sailed everywhere, in giant ships that dwarfed the little caravels that the Europeans had invented. He left a trail of sailing charts, reports, and temples all across the Indian Ocean.

At the end of the alphabet are two important Chinese explorers, ones who “discovered” the trading routes, over land and sea, which helped carve out where east and west might exchange their goods: the silk, the frankincense, the pepper, and the ideas.

Zheng He meeting traders from Asia to the west. From TopChinaTravel.com.

The stories of these explorers seem to be the perfect bookends to wrap up 26 A to Z posts about this amazing time and geography known as the Silk Road.

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N is for Navigators

1400 map of the Atlantic, from Treaty of Tordesillas. Photo by kajmeister in Lisbon.

Have you ever wondered why the Brazilians speak Portuguese? All of South and Central America were overrun with Spanish colonizers–except for Brazil.

The pope brokered a deal with the countries on the Iberian Peninsula to split the world in two halves. The Portuguese got everything to the east, and the Spanish got everything to the west. Easy peasy. The Treaty of Tordesillas.

The Royal Bastard of Fond Memory

Portugal is the stubborn left arm of land on the Iberian Peninsula, never willing to be absorbed. They have their own language, distinctive music, and naval heroes. They timed their independence well, coming together as a country when Spain was still a shattered group of provinces. It helped to have a royal bastard who reigned for nearly half a century.

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F is for Fluyt

Ships. So. Many. Ships!

J. M. Turner “The Harbor at Dieppe,” from Wikipedia.

Apparently, ship painting is a huge sub-genre unto itself, which I was unaware of until I started sourcing pictures for this post. This post is about the Dutch ship, the fluyt, which turned the Dutch into the pre-eminent traders from the 15th century on. But it’s also a weensy bit about what ships came before.

Not so Tall and Stately

I mentioned with the Doge that the Venetians attacked Constantinople and used ships that ferried armor and horses. This is a view of the Venetian navy vessel. Not so cargo-based, is it?

Venetian war ship, painted by Francesco Guardi, wikipedia
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